The Clump Factor: An Unscientific Analysis


Although I do not have a large number of followers, some of you might have noticed that I have not written anything new for several weeks. This was not by design. I just got tied up with too many deadlines and activities, a phenomenon I have come to call “The Clump Factor”. You may ask “what is the clump factor?” Then again, maybe not, but it I will tell  you anyway. It is a peculiar theory I have had for a long time, but have not been able to verify. So, here it is.

Have you noticed that distracting events seem to “clump” around certain dates? A distracting event is a deadline, event, meetings, or anything else that takes you away from your primary activities. This happened to me one recent morning when I had four overlapping events and, as chance would have it, went to the wrong one. So, I began to review my calendar. This confirmed what I suspected. There seems to be one week each month or one day each week which are packed with appointments, events, meetings, and deadlines. In addition, proposals and other deliverables seem to all be due within days of each other, even though they started out months apart with totally different timelines. I decided to end my clump of no postings by writing about clumping – kind of reverse logic, but it works.

“The Clump Factor”:  No matter how hard we try, there are certain dates that are “magnets” for these events. Check your schedule and verify this for yourself. I don’t know whether this is a factor that is more prevalent in the Federal space, but I do know that it exists. I have spoken with many of my peers about this concept and they all agree. The problem is: How does one have a real life when these “clumps” keep getting in our way? Further, how do we manage ourselves to be able to handle the multitude of overlapping activities? My response, as I get older and wiser, is “we don’t”. We just need to drop some activities when they begin to clump.  I know that sounds harsh, and those who know me will tell me I’m the worst one for following this particular advice. However, I have seen too many companies trying to stretch their sparse resources to react to many simultaneous demands AND doing a poor job on everything. I know we spend a lot of time and effort getting familiar with an opportunity, nurturing the customer, or anticipating an event, only to discover that they all convene on the same date. There is even a scientific concept of “clumped distribution” – look it up on Google – but I am far from scientific.

Let me diverge for a minute with a short story. I recall a situation many years ago when I was working on three major proposals over a period of six months. Each one had a due date and activity schedule that allowed the company I was working for to respond to all three. On top of this, I scheduled a 10-day vacation with my kids out of the country at a time that every schedule said would be wide open. As chance would have it, though, one proposal was delayed until the final due date fell smack in the middle of my vacation, another scheduled oral discussions for that week, and the third decided they would award at that time, but needed to hold some negotiations first.. Of course, I was in a location with no telephones and very poor communications (this was before the era of ubiquitous cell phones and laptops around the world). I think this was the first time I actually gave thought to the clump factor, although that is not what I called it at that time. Fortunately, we had a good team so that my absence had not impact and ended up winning two of the three.

I still don’t have a solution for how to deal with clumping other than flexibility and good teamwork,  and I know that no amount of planning or resource allocation will get you around its existence. I would like to hear from some of you as to whether you have experienced the same situation and, if you have, how have you coped with it? I’m sure others would like to share your stories and your methods that have worked, and the ones that have not work.

Please feel free to dialogue below and let me know your thoughts.

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Posted on March 16, 2012, in General Topics, Lessons Learned, Strategic Planning and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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